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The Fang-tastic Complexity of Vampire Movies

By David Young · October 17, 2022

The Fang-tastic Complexity of Vampire Movies_featured

We used to vehemently ignore the things that went bump in the night. Now, we can’t look away. From werebeasts to the walking dead, we find ourselves fascinated by the things our ancestors could only whisper about in horrified, folkloric rituals. Though our fascination runs wide and deep, no such demon has captured our attention as much as the vampire. It’s not by accident, either: our newest cinematic iterations of the creature showcase a complexity that didn’t exist in early vampire movies.

With time, our view of the wampyr has evolved to include the romantic damned, the dastardly serial killer, the comic book vampire, and even the comic vampire. All of these complex characters have intrinsically high stakes that are informed by their loves, their obsessions, and even their mistakes. For a proper view of this evolution, one only has to look at our stories, our cinema, and the ways we’ve begun to showcase these creatures of the night.

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30 Days of Night

Nothing quite hits you like the do-or-die feeling of being trapped. You’re captured by circumstance and left to contend with monsters preying on you and your fellow humans. That, in essence, is the vampire movie 30 Days of Night.

The narrative encompasses the feeling of being cornered prey as a one-stop town in Alaska is plunged into darkness and besieged by vampires. This vampire is social in the necessary sense, complete with human thoughts and emotions that make them all the more formidable. One of the most haunting revelations, though, is that these predators have their own language — one that chills viewers to the bone when they hear it spoken.

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What We Do in the Shadows

Vampires can make you smile, even laugh, no matter if they’re damned souls or not. What We Do in the Shadows proves exactly that; every antic and piece of dialogue is shockingly human, though the people in the story are undoubtedly supernatural. The vampires of this world make mistakes and cause serious comical devastation in their wake, making their interpretation one of the most entertaining evolutions of the legendary Nosferatu.

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The Lost Boys

Ask yourself: “What film could be more 1980s than The Lost Boys?” We can’t think of one. It’s not only iconic for its elemental dedication to the tropes of the ’80s like gang violence and sunglasses at night — but it’s also a powerful demonstration of the lore found in vampire movies. Everything from the surprise ending to Michael’s slow transformation makes it an incredibly powerful world-building experience. In doing so, the movie also showcases that even the damned have a chance at redemption — if they can survive the attempt.

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Only Lovers Left Alive

Who says vampires can’t be human? Everything about Only Lovers Left Alive points to the obvious answer: There’s still a human in there, at least in this narrative. Love, depression, worry, and even thoughts of suicide fill the “lives” of undead characters like Adam and Eve. Not to mention, family troubles can even affect these people — making these vampires people to which we can all relate.

In fact, they exercise restraint regarding their bloodthirsty natures, and the vampires are even affected deeply by the contaminations we’ve taken on as a society. That contamination, which remains unidentified, can be seen as a symbolic attempt to correlate with social ills from the turn of the century — and if these vampires are suffering alongside us, are they really all that different?

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Interview with the Vampire

In a stunning combination of animalistic nature and humanity, there’s something particularly interesting about Interview with the Vampire’s main characters.

The dangerous and psychopathic Lestat forms the story’s inciting incident, but the narrative revolves around his new companion Louis, conscientious and forlorn. The two creatures couldn’t be more different, but while Louis shares his experience with an interviewer, the listener seems to only lean toward the romantic side of the story. Louis’ own beliefs and experiences shape a unique conscience, one that is constantly painted in contrast by the single-minded vampire Lestat, who befits the usual legends. 

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From Dusk Till Dawn

When you think of Quentin Tarantino films, you typically don’t think of bloodsuckers — but among his horror offerings, the director did in fact create a Tarantino-esque vampire film.

Once again, Tarantino drew in audiences with what starts as a crime thriller — but this time, it’s a bit more than that. 

From Dusk Till Dawn showcases the quintessential modern version of the vampire legend: a creature of violence and death, but now framed as a criminal in an outlaw gang. This crime-and-Western horror film doesn’t stay away from the horror, but it gives us a clearer picture of how the old-world vampire fits into modern society in the most believable way — as cold-blooded, conniving killers.

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula

No vampire has earned more fame than the Count, and the version of Dracula we see in this film is nothing short of complex.

Motivated by many things, including love and his feelings about God, he is by far the most empathetic version of this vampire. His mystique, his allure, and even his restraint all give him more intensity as the devilish incarnation we see on screen. Not to mention, Gary Oldman’s stunning performance steals the show more than once.

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If vampires could create superheroes, one of them would be Blade.

A severely underrated superhero movieBlade features a tortured dhampir, a half-vampire with a mission to slay, becomes the bane and the MacGuffin of the vampire population. His half-immortal blood only scratches the surface, as Blade’s own soul and his battle with bloodthirstiness serve the purpose of inner complexity. As much as he is able, he works to rid the world of the leeches, while struggling to suppress his thirst — and when he comes to the hard choice, he chooses to continue fighting. It’s the presence of a creature like Blade that helps us sleep at night, even with bloodsuckers waiting out there.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

If Blade is the vampire superhero we all wanted, then Buffy is the hero who is born destined to slay the demons herself. The film Buffy the Vampire Slayer served as inspiration for the series of the same name. But in both iterations, vampires generally stand as a demonic presence, a blight on existence at large — meaning these characters (apart from some notable exceptions from the series) stand in direct contrast to the suffering, human iterations from other films about vampires.

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Whether they are the terrifying creatures of legend or tortured beings with consciences to keep them from their urges, vampires in modern cinema are complex. There are as many versions as one can imagine — even ones that sparkle.

With that in mind, it’s important to remember that vampires are a source of deep and ever-springing inspiration — much like a well-pierced artery.

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